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“Przekrój” Magazine brings English-speaking readers some of the best journalism from across Central and Eastern Europe, in the fields of wellbeing, art, literature, science, ecology, philosophy, psychology, and more. Take a break from the speed and intensity of the daily news and join us!

Our eternally pessimistic correspondent gives his historical highlights for the month of January.
2023-01-01 00:00:00

January in History
Diary of an Eternal Pessimist

January in History
January in History

January in history according to an eternal pessimist.

Read in 7 minutes

1st January 1979

The US and China officially began a diplomatic relationship. It was the result of the so-called ‘ping-pong diplomacy’ – an act of political courtship kick-started by the 1971 ping-pong matches between the two nations. Now that’s a long shot!

2nd January 1839

French photographer Louis Daguerre took the first picture of the Moon. It should have been one of the most famous photographs in history! Sadly, it perished in a fire that destroyed the inventor’s laboratory.

3rd January 1866

Scottish traveller and missionary David Livingstone began his last journey across Africa. Little did he know that the trip would bring him so much fame… with his sudden disappearance along the way.

4th January 1847

Samuel Colt sold his first revolver, ordered by the US government. That’s what we call a shot at the brass ring.

5th January 1066

On his deathbed, king of England Edward the Confessor whispered the name of whom he would leave the throne to. Not loud enough to prevent a war from happening, though.

6th January 1877  

Austrian man Alois Schicklgruber changed his name to Hiedler. As if it was still too hard to spell, the clerk wrote it down as ‘Hitler’. Perhaps Adolf, the son of Alois, would never have reached such a horrendous position if his followers had had to twist their tongues, shouting: Heil Schicklgruber!

7th January 1601

In the Battle of Wenden, the Swedish army saw the Polish hussars charge for the first time. For hundreds of Swedes, it would also be the last thing they got to see.

8th January 1811

In Louisiana, a rebellion of several hundred black slaves took place. Two ‘masters’ and 95 rebels lost their lives. And the owners of the killed slaves received compensation money from the government, to make up for the damages inflicted on their property.

9th January 1493  

During his journey to the New World, Christopher Columbus happened upon a group of mermaids. Or so he thought. The explorer pointed out that the creatures were nowhere near as beautiful as the myths had claimed. No wonder why – it soon turned out that they were not predatory half-women, half-fish, but manatees, the fat sea mammals.

10th January 1999

The first episode of The Sopranos was aired. It was a small step for the history of the mafia, and a great leap for the history of TV shows. Cinemas should have already feared their impending doom.

11th January 1644

While taking the long journey to India by ship, Jesuit missionary Michał Boym sent a letter from Mozambique, describing the customs of the inhabitants of Southern Africa. It was the first Polish account in history. Too bad it was completely forgotten for so many years.

12th January 1795

The king of Poland Stanisław August Poniatowski was held hostage in Grodno. Over time, his fate would improve, unlike the fate of the First Polish Republic, crushed under the third partition of the country.

13th January 1964

Bob Dylan’s LP The Times They Are a-Changin’ came out. Instead of more traditional ballads or love songs, the singer proposed a number of protest songs about poverty, injustice and the sexual revolution. Back then, rock and roll still cared.

14th January 1514 

Pope Leo X issued a bulla condemning slavery. But what of it – just two years later, the first shipment of sugar from the New World would arrive on the shores of Europe. And it soon became clear that the sweet European life needed to run on living machines, labouring on Caribbean plantations.

15th January 1759

The British Museum opened its gates to the public. And the list of its treasures was impressive, to say the least. Too bad so many of them were stolen or pillaged during wars…

16th January 378 CE

The Teotihuacano army conquered the famous Mayan city of Tikal. However, instead of tearing it down, the conquerors helped it to grow. They even adapted to the customs of Tikal’s original inhabitants. All for nothing, though, since the jungle grew all over the place, anyway.

17th January 1904

Anton Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard was staged for the first time in history. The author saw his work as a comedy, but the director presented it as a tragedy. Chekhov was so angry that he didn’t even want to attend the premiere… Who would have thought it would become a must-see for all theatre lovers to this day.

18th January 1657  

In the Edo shrine (today’s Tokyo), the priests exorcised a kimono in which three girls had died one after another. The priests decided to burn the cursed garment. Unfortunately, just as they started, a strong wind picked up, carrying the fire up onto the shrine’s wooden roof, and then to the neighbouring houses. Soon, all of Edo was burning. During the next three days, flames would devour most of the city, killing one-third of the 300,000 people who lived there.

19th January 1847

For the first time, Scottish doctor James Young Simpson used ether to spare the pain of a woman giving birth. The experiment was immediately condemned by religious fanatics. After all, the Scripture says: “With painful labour you will give birth to children.”

20th January 1652

After being convicted for lese-majesty, magnate Hieronim Radziejowski fled the Polish Republic. He came back with a Deluge, backed up by his new king – Charles X Gustav of Sweden.

21st January 62 CE 

Roman aristocrat Poppaea Sabina becomes Nero’s wife. It was a great honour, except her new husband was a brute, drunkard and mythomaniac. Poppaea got pregnant, but was killed after one of many domestic fights with Nero.

22nd January 1793

Europe was shaken by the news that just a day earlier, the government of revolutionary France had beheaded the monarch, Louis XVI. Lo and behold – the British press suddenly heralded Louis a martyr, completely ignoring the ongoing rivalry between the two countries. The fear of revolution can do miracles, indeed…

23rd January 1897

24-year-old American woman Elva Zona Heaster was found dead in her own bed. Nobody suspected the husband to be the murderer until the victim’s mother was haunted by… her ghost. When the case went to court, the jury believed the stories about the ghost. The man went to prison. Was it a crime or paranormal activity?

24th January 1885

Several bombs exploded in London. The bombers targeted the Tower of London and the Houses of Parliament. The attacks were organized by Irish radicals, ready to use any methods to fight for the freedom of their country. The British punished the perpetrators, but the conflict with Ireland would drag on for many decades before a compromise would be reached.

25th January 1858

At the wedding of Queen Victoria’s daughter with the Prussian heir to the throne, Mendelssohn’s “Wedding March” was played. The piece, unknown to the wider public before, became an overnight success. Strange, as there was no YouTube back then.

26th January 1934

Poland and the Third Reich signed a non-aggression pact. And they say you should always keep your word…

27th January 1891

In a church in Zakopane, a six-year-old boy was christened. The godmother was the legendary actress Helena Modrzejewska, the godfather – a highland robber and storyteller called Sabała. And what did the boy become? His name was Staś, but it was the nickname Witkacy that made him famous.

28th January 1611

Johannes Hevelius was born in Gdańsk. He would die on the same day – luckily, 76 years later, having first discovered all that he was supposed to.

29th January 1415

The Polish delegation arrived at the Council of Constance. The knight Zawisza Czarny was a sensation – he wore a hipster outfit, decorated with ostrich feathers, and he rode at the head of an impressive cortege of two dozen horses. It would have made a great historical soap opera: a mediaeval version of The Bold and The Beautiful, if you will.

30th January 1975

Hungarian inventor Ernő Rubik patented his most famous puzzle: a “magical cube”. It’s difficult to complete for an average person. But it’s even more irritating that record holders can do it in just a few seconds!

31st January 1542  

Conquistador Álvar Núñez Cabeza de Vaca arrived at the giant waterfall Iguazú. Since then, this natural miracle hasn’t had a moment of peace. And worse still, the waves of tourists keep on rising.


Translated by Aga Zano

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